One of my passions is helping small business owners garner exposure through the power of publicity. And as a former newspaper reporter, I know how tough it can be to get the attention of the media – especially in today's 24-hour news cycle environment.
The public's thirst for news is never quenched; we're tied to our iPhones and blackberries, and constantly scouring the web, our Facebook and Twitter feeds for news. Reporters these days have less time to crank out more stories than they were expected to before the advent of online media – everyone is pressed for time. But if you are a small business owner who has a new service or product, restaurant or retail store, how on earth do you capture the attention of the media? Here are seven tips to help you get started.—<em>Amanda Miller Littlejohn</em>
<b>Remember: The media is on the hunt for news</b>
When I was in the newsroom several years ago, every Thursday we'd have "budget meetings" where we'd go over everyone's ideas for new stories. If I didn't have at least 6 good stories to pitch to my editors, I was a nervous wreck! I'd spend all week digging for news, and digging myself out from off-topic pitches. Whenever I got a pitch that was a good for me, I was grateful. So remember, while you're vying for the attention of the media, they also need your story. Which means you need to…
<b>First, figure out your "story."</b>
Ask yourself what about your new venture is newsworthy. Find the "so what?" factor and be prepared to articulate it. The media does not care to cover you just because you want to be covered. They have an obligation to share the most relevant information with their readers. So dig deep and ask yourself what is inspiring or newsy about your business. Is this business a new career path for you after a long stint in an unrelated industry? Did you start this business with one of your children as a way to bond? Are you offering a product that can't be found anywhere else in your town? Are you offering a brand new service that has already shown amazing results? Anticipate the media's needs and think like a journalist. If you were interviewing yourself, what are the first questions you would you ask?
<b>Get professional photos.</b>
If you have a product, you need professional, high-resolution photos to share with editors and TV segment producers. If you are an expert, you'll need a professional headshot. I for one, fought this for a while. I thought I could "get by" with photos taken on my MacBook. But every single time I spoke at a conference or participated in any kind of industry event, I was asked for a headshot, and I was never proud of the photos I sent over. When I finally got my headshots taken, they showed how serious I am about my business and my brand. I have gotten many compliments, and my new client inquiries are on the rise!
<b>Have sample products ready to send.</b>
A friend of mine is the style editor of a weddings and lifestyle magazine. Just the other day she told me about a man who wanted her to feature his lip gloss line in her editorial "picks" section of an upcoming issue. She asked him to send her samples so she could test the glosses out before she recommended the product. He balked, saying he didn't have free samples. Of course she ignored any further messages from him—she no longer took him seriously. Obviously you can't afford to send full product to every editor on your media list, but if you have sample sizes of your products, you should be able to send them to a substantial portion of your list. Remember to contact your media contacts ahead of time to make sure it's okay to send the products.
<b>Determine who may be interested.</b>
Do your homework before sending errant pitches to the media. Research your competitors and find out who has covered them in the last year or so, then start following those reporters and writers. Pay attention to the stories these targeted reporters cover by setting up RSS feeds of their most recent work (you can use a service like Google Reader to organize your feeds, I use the RSS function in Mail on my Mac). Reach out to them genuinely, after you see a story that piques your interest. Introduce yourself and begin a conversation.
<b>Be ready for business!</b>
When publicity strikes, you may get a surge in foot traffic or web traffic. If you have a brick and mortar business, get ready by bringing on extra temporary staff, and ordering extra product. Get your web site ready by creating landing pages and email captures so you can keep in touch with all of your new customers even after they've come and gone. Offer a coupon for new e-mail list subscribers, then send over your newsletter and let them know what's new with your business each month.